Badass Women and the Shows that Celebrate Them

I finally got a chance to watch the Badass Women panel from the weekend and like many others, I absolutely loved it. The women on the panel are all fabulous, both on screen and off. I love that a panel like that exists because it means that more people are taking an interest in the way women are portrayed on TV and in the movies. I love that sexism and racism in the entertainment industry can be discussed in two very popular panels during Comic Con. What I loved most of all is that it celebrates so many different ways to be strong. Sansa Stark is very different from Sarah Walker and Donna Meagle but all three are equally badass. I was so inspired after finishing the panel that I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate shows that focus on all types of female strength. Many of these I have already discussed this month (I may have a slightly obvious preference in my TV) and I would love to hear your thoughts on strong female characters and the shows that portray them.

Sex and the City This show is fantastic about showcasing different types of women and the relationships between them. The show never demonized any of the women for their beliefs or actions or tried to elevate one above the rest. Charlotte wasn’t the uptight prude that everyone hated, Samantha wasn’t the slut that everyone secretly talked about behind her back, Miranda wasn’t the cynical, career-driven bitch, and Carrie wasn’t the slightly naive one who made bad choices. They were all fully formed women and appreciated the differences in each other and that made it truly special. 

Gilmore Girls This is my go-to show for their depiction of a strong women whose strength had nothing to do with physical abilities and everything to do with dedication and drive. Lorelai was emotional, occasionally irrational, independent and determined. She got to be sensitive and competent and while that might not seem like as big of a deal now, it was a big deal in 2000 to my teenage self and it’s still a portrayal I deeply love. The show also featured a myriad of other fantastic women, from Miss Patty to Emily Gilmore, who all had different approaches to life but who each had something we could learn from them. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse I’m just going to lump all of Joss’s shows together because he is known for the strength of his female characters. Unlike Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City, many of the characters on his shows are also physically strong. Buffy is a vampire slayer and therefore good in a fight. Faith, Zoe, and Echo are also characters who aren’t to be messed with because they are capable of kicking your ass in a fight. But there are also characters like Willow, Kaylee and Fred, whose strength comes from other areas. What is most remarkable is that all of the characters, regardless of their variety of strength, aren’t only defined by it. Buffy is still a regular teenage girl. She has crushes, she makes bad romantic choices, and she just wants to go to college with her best friend. Kaylee is a sweetheart and emotionally vulnerable but is also a highly gifted mechanic. They are all well-rounded and full characters, not stereotypes that can easily be placed into a box. 

Battlestar Galactica I love that this show can contain all of the awesomeness that is Kara Thrace, Laura Roslin, and Six. All equally strong yet all diverse. Kara’s approach to her femininity isn’t the same as Six’s approach. Roslin’s strength of conviction and leadership skills aren’t the same as Kara’s physical abilities or her confidence. Then there are the rest of the women who fall somewhere in between these divergent characters to occupy a space that is all their own. 

Once Upon a Time Like Jennifer Morrison said, this show is a great one for female characters. All are allowed their own identity and a space to call their own. They don’t need to be alike and they don’t all need to occupy traditionally female narratives at all times while not needing to occupy a more masculine narrative in order to be strong. There is strength in their vulnerability. There is strength in Snow’s continued hope. There is strength in the protectiveness that come’s from Red’s wolf side. There is strength in Regina’s growth as she opens herself up to others. There is strength in the forgiveness that has had to come as characters have hurt each other, whether intentional or not.

I want diverse examples of women on TV. I want young girls to be able to watch a show full of female characters and be able to find a character or even a combination of characters who have traits they can identify with. I want all women to feel like there isn’t a wrong way to be a strong woman. Physical strength isn’t a necessity, but it’s ok if you do have that. Women don’t have to express their emotional strength by being kind and nurturing, but it’s ok if that’s how you choose to be. We don’t have to be one extreme of the gender role spectrum, we’re allowed to occupy multiple roles at different times and even at the same time. Our identity is what we make it and our strength comes from being honest about who we are and being brave enough to share that with the world. That’s what I want when I say I want strong female characters on TV and that’s what was represented by this fantastic panel.

What shows do you love for their portrayal of female characters? 


3 thoughts on “Badass Women and the Shows that Celebrate Them

  1. Badass women panel for the win! Like I told Katie, I am still kicking myself for not going to this in person, sigh.

    I of course love all of Joss’ women. And all the women on Once Upon a Time, especially Emma, but you and Katie can handle talking about that one, and I have talked about my connection with Emma before. Orphan black is also a stellar example for obvious reasons.

    There is also Dana Scully from The X-Files, again for reasons I have mentioned before. But since its relevant to what you bring up in your post, Dana Scully was someone who rejected society and her family’s expectations and chose to follow her own path, and that is a large part of what I loved about her. Also, the episode ‘All Things’, written by Gillian Anderson herself, is a lovely story about appreciating all the people and experiences you have had in life, and how they shape the person you are today.

    My other top badass TV woman is Lois Lane. She has had multiple TV incarnations, but I always loved Lois on ‘Smallville’. Truth be told, I only watched ‘Smallville’ for Lois. When I binge watched the show last year I just started at season 4 when she came on the show, and I would pretty much skip any episode she wasnt in. She was tough, yet vulnerable, and her relationship with Clark always felt real despite the ridiculous situations they were always in. The show could be pretty crapy at times (all of season 7, eeek), but Lois was always awesome. I dont think Erica Durance got enough credit for her portrayal of Lois Lane, because it was close to flawless.

  2. I want to hold this post close to my heart and keep it there forever. I love the dialogue that this Nerd HQ panel created both on the panel itself and among those of us who watched it. You know that I share your belief that there are so many different ways women can be strong, so the inclusion of women like Retta and Sophie Turner on that panel was such a pleasant surprise to me.

    “Our identity is what we make it and our strength comes from being honest about who we are and being brave enough to share that with the world.” – That’s really beautiful, Heather. You’re making me want to cry all over again!

    As far as shows with badass female characters, I love all of your choices. I echo your thoughts on Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls, as well as Once Upon a Time (which I’m going to talk about later in this post). I don’t have many to add, except:

    Firefly: This was my first real exposure to a show that celebrated the idea that women could be strong in different ways. Every woman on that ship was a badass for different reasons, but the one thing they all had in common was that they knew who they were and owned it. I think every woman I know who’s watched this show has a different favorite female character. Mine is Zoe because she embodies the idea that we as women don’t have to be boxed into one role or stereotype. She’s a warrior woman, but she’s also a loving wife, a great friend, and a nurturing woman who longs to be a mother. You can’t put Zoe in a box, which is exactly how I feel about all of the women on this show.

    Orphan Black: The badass women on this show have talked about by many (including myself), so I had to include them here. For being genetically identical, each clone is so different and so strong in her own way. They’re all fighters, and they all fight to remain individuals and autonomous in a world that wants to take both of those things from them. There’s nothing more badass than people who fight for their loved ones and for their own ability to be themselves in a world that wants to deny them that ability—and all of those clones do exactly that.

    Parks and Rec: For me, this show is the perfect example of a group of female badasses who don’t need to physically take people down to be strong. The female characters on this show get stuff done; they affect change and chase their dreams and do so with confidence in themselves and in the women around them. They all fight for what and who they believe in, and that’s the very definition of being a badass in my book.

    And finally, Once Upon a Time: I’ve never watched a show with such an incredible variety of female characters before. These women show their strengths in so many ways, but what I love isn’t just that these women wield swords and bows and fireballs. I love that they’re badasses because they have such strong courage of conviction. And there’s nothing more badass than forging your own path and reclaiming your own sense of agency, which is something so many female characters on this show have done. They’re saviors and evil queens, badass bandits and fierce werewolves. But they’re also wives, mothers, daughters, lovers, and friends. These women are allowed to grow, change, make mistakes, and show vulnerability, and they’re allowed to do all of those things in ways that are unique to their stories—because no two women have the same story.

  3. I echo all the choices above that you all have laid out so eloquently. I agree with so much of what you said, that I have little to add about the shows I watched. I loved Shauna’s pick of Lois and your inclusion of Joss as a unit. And my love of Orphan Black is well documented.

    This post and that panel filled me with such unending joy I could watch it weekly (and might). For me my earliest inclination of ‘bad ass’ women came from 3 distinct sources. Even though I grew up with Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels for me the best bad asses of my early TV viewing was Cagney and Lacey. Two female detectives, possessing all the grit required of the job, the tenacity to navigate a man’s world and the strength to be vulnerable women to each other as partners and within their families. As I watched the bad ass panel I thought about how lucky I was to grow up with so many great examples of what bad ass women looked like in real life.

    I had Murphy Brown, Designing Women, China Beach and The Cosby Show just to name a few. The Cosby Show was particularly important to me as a child growing up in a predominantly white community and being the token Latina in most of the circles I was in. The Cosby Show not only gave me a strong, confidant woman of color (who just happened to be a lawyer). But it gave me a Spanish math teacher and a whole universe of people whose professions and ethnicity broke barriers and color lines long before Shondra Rhimes became our go do for colorful casting.

    They were bad ass because they played against stereotypes at a time when those stereotypes were not only accepted but embraced in our pop culture. I loved the panel for their candor and their joy, but I am grateful for it giving me a moment to reflect on the legacy of powerful women we’ve seen throughout TV history.

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